First, there was a dream of the Salton Sea, its fishy shores and trailer parks. I learned of Slab City in ruins, a settlement for artists and junkies.
We’d been going to church for a year when it burned to the ground on a Tuesday night. On Thursday, a volunteer called Mama to say services would be held at the VFW. Mama said thanks and hung up. That was the last I ever heard of church.
The new girl said Stevie Nicks could teach me how to be a witch. I don’t remember caring about black magic. Instead, it was the desperate promise of receiving attention from a mother, but not being a daughter.
I notice a wall of perfumes behind the counter on the shelves that used to hold cigarettes. They say scent is the strongest trigger of memory, but I don’t need to open the boxes to be transported.
I sort the letters into chronological order. I take another sip. I try not to drink too often, but I’ve marked this ritual is an occasion. I’ve done it before; the wine, the sorting, and the tight feeling in my chest that may cause me to finish the bottle.
I think of myself a year later at eighteen, now wearing scuffed Army surplus combat boots. My boyfriend had a mohawk and a switchblade hidden inside a comb.
She sighs with the wonder of it all, considering how a first date and a daring confession on his part, “What do you think of men in drag?” transformed into her sharing Silky Maxwell with a stranger. They closed down the bar that night. The words tumbled out between them, and she told him about the photoshoots and sponsors, the videos, and the fans.
It was said that those who’d been there and received a ticket with a number, or maybe they selected a ticket from a deep bowl, or perhaps they heard a number read from a ticket and raised their arms with fierce intensity to claim it, received their true number at the event. Those people came away with answered prayers.
I asked him for cigarettes, taking a chance he’d want to be a cool dad. I stood on his deck later, focused on making a cigarette burn on the cuff of my jacket.
The brown paper fell away to reveal a cardboard cigar box and a folded white piece of paper. Primo Fine Cigars encircled an unimpressive red and gold foil seal. Jessie unfolded the paper and read the note in confusion. “Your turn,” was written in Crystal’s plump handwriting. She turned the note over, hoping for an explanation. It was blank.
The headlights were too low to be Ryder’s aging Silverado. I did not have other family left, or many friends in town, and none would have visited at this hour.
I was stoned the summer after high school. We went to Taco Bell every day. I’d been in the system since junior high.
We speak of this fantasy when he is not too groggy from the morphine. In these times of clarity, my love for him forms bone and muscle.
Later, the girls stand in front of the open refrigerator, slightly feral: slices of cheese torn from plastic, pickles from the jar, a swig of Hershey’s syrup, jelly scooped out with a finger.
At that point, we expected locked doors, staff with keys, and intricate systems of levels and points that determined our value, our movements, our freedoms.
The Onion Van was parked adjacent to a road leading deep into the forest, quite possibly the very primrose path that carries people to places miles from where anyone can hear them scream.
“Hello,” the very small girl whispered to the pup as she settled into her seat. “My name is Tillie. Your name is Levi, and you are mine.”
I couldn’t drop this in Sawyer’s lap. He couldn’t know there was any more trouble than driving into town when the well ran dry.
I spent a few moments gauging everyday items that were wider than this walkway; my dog, my laptop, a submarine sandwich placed sideways, a yoga mat, most table games except for Uno, and me.
what’s your name
where are you going
do you need a ride